New class explores African diaspora genres through Beyoncé’s music

February 12, 2021

Are you a loyal Beyoncé fan? Do you love to blast “Lemonade” or “Formation” in your car and sing at the top of your lungs? A new class titled “AAAS/WGS 152B: Beyoncé and Beyond: The Politics of Black Popular Music” may be just the class for you. Professor Shoniqua D. Roach (AAAS/WGS) is excited to teach this class and hopes to use the space to manifest what Beyoncé gives off: pleasure, confidence and ease, she told The Brandeis Hoot in an interview.

Roach was inspired by her students to teach the class. With her training focused on literature, visual culture and popular music, Roach has previously written essays on artists such as Nicki Minaj and Beyoncé. After joining the faculty during the 2019-2020 academic year, Roach was approached by Brittney Nanton ’21 and Kari Calloway ’21, who expressed their interest in a popular music class. Together they created a course that would focus on Beyoncé.

In this class, Roach plans to use Beyoncé’s music as an entry point into exploring African diaspora genres. The specific genres include: Disco, Hip-hop, Dancehall, Reggae, Soca, House and Techno, Neo-Soul, Jungle, R&B, Bounce, Afrobeats, Trap music and UK garage, Roach told The Hoot in an interview. The class will explore the social, political and economic topics that shape these genres and also discuss the shifts in beyonce’s career. 

Some examples of music videos that students will analyze include “Run the World (Girls)” as an introduction to jungle music, a discussion of its relationship to Reggae, UK garage, Bounce, and Afrobeats, “Baby boy” as a window into Dancehall music along with looking at it alongside scholarship by Latin Queer Jamacian folks, and “Naughty girl” as an introduction to Disco music along with scholarship on Beyoncé. Other music videos include “Black is King,” “Naughty Girl” and “I Love to Love You Baby,” among many others. Professor Roach expects covering Beyoncé’s robust repertoire to be the hardest part of teaching the class as Beyoncé has many songs that convey various social and political messages.

To keep students engaged, Roach plans to have course outings and virtual outings. Specifically, Brandeis will be hosting Daphne Brooks, a professor of African American Studies, Theater Studies, American Studies, and Women’s Gender & Sexuality Studies at Yale University during the week of April 5. Students will read an essay about Daphne Brooks that week and then will attend one of her lectures during that week.

Students will be expected to complete “reading memos,” where they respond to specific prompts based on the assigned readings. The students must answer the questions of “who, what, where, when and why” in these reading memos, Roach explained. For example, for a Beyoncé video, students could discuss whether it is a political statement of some kind and how it connects to black diasporic music. The final project consists of an op-ed piece in which students will produce a piece of popular music criticism, and if the student desires, Roach will help get their piece published.

Roach hopes that by the end of the semester, students are able to identify and describe theories in the African diaspora movement. She hopes that students are able to refine their reading skills and learn how to write about important events in Black popular music.

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